Hertz’s supercharged Tesla deal could haul us into the electric vehicle age

This morning’s Observer column:

On Tuesday, Hertz, the car-rental firm that recently emerged from bankruptcy, announced that it had made a deal to buy 100,000 cars from Tesla for what knowledgeable sources estimate to be worth $4bn. On learning this, my first thought was that if this is what insolvency is like, please direct me to the nearest bankruptcy court. My second thought, though, was that this could be a significant moment on the road to wider adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

The reason is, as anyone who has rented conventional cars will know, is that the best way of having a realistic test drive of a vehicle is to rent one for a week or two on holiday. As Teslas become available via Hertz, many more people will have a chance to experience what an EV is like. This is important because, generally, only geeks and masochists (like this columnist) are early adopters of novel technology and normal cautious consumers regard EVs as rather exotic and peculiar, not something you’d rely on for commuting or the school run.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a key factor in changing people’s minds about EVs is word of mouth: someone you know has taken the plunge and has given you a ride in theirs. This was the driving force behind the widespread adoption of the Toyota Prius hybrid in the last decade and it seems to be happening now with EVs, which may account for the fact the Tesla Model 3 was the biggest selling new car in the UK in September, despite the fact that the company spends zilch on overt marketing or advertising.

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